Keeping things pagan, Viking and folky with lashings of doom, death and blackness Warhorns Festival has established itself as a great little event over the last few years moving from York to Selby in the process. It brings a mix of people and not just from Yorkshire judging by the amount of Germans met over the weekend. The first day serves as an intro to a full event on the Saturday but with nine acts on the bill there’s still plenty to cram in and see. In retrospect it was a bit of an odd mixture on the Friday as we took in the venue and explored the merchandise and various areas getting acclimatised to it all. Unfortunately due to faffing on my behalf 1st act Atorc were completely missed but we were fully in place by the time the next lot came on.
Describing themselves as a “seriously unserious power / heavy metal” band Sellsword are a home grown Yorkshire act and come out swinging with plenty of bravado. It’s already fairly busy and the audience lap up songs about (well you guessed it) swords. The singer even has a microphone stand looking like it was forged from the same place as Excalibur. Vocals are a clean and harmonic force, too much so for my personal tastes but going down well with the crowd as the band chop and scythe away turning the stage into their own personal battleground. There’s a full blown jig at one point and the power croons really hit the rafters as the band gain more appreciation and everyone seems to make the most of their short 30 minute set.
There seems to be a dividing point between the serious and unserious during the weekend and it has to be said the dafter the band, the more packed it seems to get inside for them. Very much on the latter side are Aloeswood from Kingston Upon Hull playing windswept black metal and they even have a rams-head on stage. Principally a solo act studio wise with just an EP and split to their name, fleshed out to a full band here they definitely impressed. The full on barraging blackness comes across in an epic and mature fashion and it has a suitably mesmerising backbone about it all. The speedy flurries really take your head off (no swords needed here) and the historical vibe is accentuated with some acoustic sections putting this lot firmly in the Wodensfylleth bracket. They only had time for a few complex songs but definitely left an impression.
Main draw of the day for me are Welsh act Tor Marrock whose atmospheric Gothic Romance is one that I have followed for a long time and am only managing to see live for the second time today. Some line up problems see John Courage of Siluria stepping in on bass at the last second and literally saving the day and they set about destroying the soul with a nice thick chugging and meaty sound that cuts through the venue. Spoken word parts and swirling fog along with the strange masked visage of guitarist / vocalist Tor add to the atmosphere, the gothic sounding guitar textures entrance and the galloping sections round it all off neatly. There’s a vibe of fog, shadows, eeriness and even the macabre about it all and ‘The Death Of Summer’ proves the perfect song for the time of year. This lot have an easily identifiable and unique sound and it comes across well here today although I can fully appreciate those witnessing the band for the first time may have found it all a bit dense for a quick fix.
All the way from Sweden it’s Dark Legacy next. Gruff, ruff and ready their burgeoning melodeath flavours see a vocalist on keyboard, 2 guitarists, bass, lots of swirling synth and plenty of soloing. New to me again the band formerly known as Rest In Peace have one album to their name from 2014 called Ad Extremum Epilogue. They also do a bit of a jig on a song called ‘At The Graveyard’ and it’s all a bit hammy, a little Trollish and very party flavoured. They reminded a little of various bands at times, Debauchery are one without the obvious blood and chainsaws but then they get distinctly daft playing Hall Of The Mountain King flavoured metallic licks with some Iron Maiden style histrionics putting them firmly in that “unserious” camp. Naturally they went down well with those just wanting to let hair down and party.
More unknown visitors and this time all the way from Latvia. Dothbogria look interesting with black stripped war paint and it is no surprise with just an album to their name right back in 2011 the self-released Trinken der Fleisch that they have slipped under our radar. From an evocative Arkona sounding intro they clatter into things with snarling vocals and an underlying pagan fervour. I have to say they immediately impressed as a big step up from the last lot. Think much more along the likes of Moonsorrow and Ensiferium than the scene clowns and you will be along the right tracks. Wind whips icily between songs and titles are lost in a guttural snarl. There’s a little bit of mischief thrown in, some Bodom etched flurries and cheeky sounding sampled keys but this had authenticity at its heart and the chops to set all but those already comatose head-banging. Not only did they manage to stir the crowd but they also got a mini pit bouncing along. Hopefully this performance will pave the way to some more recorded output.
Can’t say the name Mekkwarrior filled me with anticipation and this lot are also from Yorkshire apparently returning from a recent “yearlong nap”. The first two words I wrote as they fired things up were “thrash bastards” and that seems pretty damn apt as they certainly thrashed things up in style. The drums did overpower things a bit to my ears and although galloping away the band seemed too overbearing losing what I suspected some of the technical edge trying to come out. They played like they meant it though even if the audience were far too restricted considering the levels of speed they were being hit by. As the set continued it all became a bit too workmanlike but there’s no denying the band made up for this in energy. That nap must have done them some good, now they just need to pick up the game a little.
I definitely recognised the name Countless Skies from various festival line-ups and apparently they had played Leeds the night before along with headliners Whispered. The Herts based mob seemed to have a fair few fans here and first impressions are good as they come out blazing with their brand of technical and tightly played melodic DM. This is all lost to me as the bassist starts crooning power metal styled vocals which had a similar effect of nails down blackboards and set me right on edge. The thing is that the guitarist also vocalises and does some proficient enough deathly growling to make them completely unnecessary in my book. I guess it is a case of personal preferences though. The band are pretty good and although not the most original the hints of Dark Tranquillity, mid era In Flames and even a touch of Swallow the Sun doominess go down well. There’s plenty to impress and the melodic nature is spot on but every time the crooning hit… well I simply had to admit defeat.
Yep am aware there is a certain amount of negativity to today’s review, don’t worry tomorrow will be more positive and not just my opinion but as I said it was a bit of an odd one and that brings to headliners Whispered. Now I had seen them at BOA and knew what to expect and am afraid that it wasn’t good. This lot are purely for those that like “gimmick metal” which I personally can’t stand (unless it’s GWAR of course). Whispered are a bunch of Finns who dress up like they are Japanese and play Shinto, Bushido, Samurai or whatever the hell you want to call it metal. Music played from outside a region that it originated in is nothing new and can be done very well; look at Nile for instance. My problem with this lot is that they sample all the Eastern melodies and instruments live! At least they dressed for the occasion and when they finally came on half an hour late after perhaps making sure they had all their samples cranked up correctly they proved better in a smaller more intimate venue than they had in a giant festival tent. They have been at this shtick for over a decade and their Oriental inspired thrashy noodles have only just got attention over here. It actually pisses me off that a hard working band like Tengger Cavalry who do this honestly and authentically have not. No doubt those looking for shits and giggles and songs about swords (of which there was a couple) had a great time but as far as I am concerned The Shogun would not have approved and would have chopped their bloody heads off!
Oh well tomorrow is another day.